Is your website easy for your audience to use? Can your customers quickly find the information they seek? Do your fans enjoy using your website to accomplish various tasks?
You have no idea.
Your mouth remains shut.
You're completely in the dark.
You don't know if your website is usable or not.
You're totally ignorant about it.
Unless you've conducted non-invasive observational usability testing with a group of typical users. There's no getting around this fact. Unless you've watched some people, who are representative of your actual intended audience, try to use it, your website usability is a dark unknown.
No matter how nice your website looks, no matter how much information is on it, no matter how technologically advanced it is, your customers won't be pleased if they can't easily use it. You may even annoy them and lose them, if just one little thing is hard to do.
Website usability CANNOT be determined by:
* Assuming that if you can use it, everyone else probably can, too.
* Asking your designers if it's got good usability characteristics.
* Comparing your website with websites you like and admire.
* Making your website conform to good design principles.
* Checking to see if your staff can use it.
* Ensuring that all the functionalities work correctly.
* Testing the links to make sure none are broken.
* Hoping that if all the information is there, specific needs of users will be met.
* Putting lots of interactive functions on it.
* Encouraging users to use a contact form, or send you an email, if there are problems on the site.
NONE of those techniques will tell you if your website is easy for visitors to use.
How To Determine the Usability of Your Website:
You have to create a task set of all the high priority actions you want customers to perform, and high priority actions that customers themselves want to perform. Then you give that list of mission critical tasks to a group of 4 to 10 typical users.
Someone must watch, without any comments or coaching, as the test participants try to do these actions on your website. With no assistance or encouragement, no answering of questions, no tips, no corrections, they must accomplish the goals set before them.
You use a stopwatch to time them, and you make notes of what steps they took to get to each goal. Then you compare their real-life site navigation with the ideal navigation that you intended.
You'll probably see some test participants keep doing the same thing over and over, thinking that a route has to be the way to achieve the goal.
You'll probably discover that what you thought was obvious, is actually confusing.
You'll probably observe frustration and even anger, then abandonment of a task.
You'll probably hear test subjects say they feel stupid. They'll often blame themselves for not being very good on computers. They may even think that a given task is impossible to accomplish, for they have exhausted every possible way they could think of.
You'll probably be dismayed.
But -- you'll know exactly how usable, or unusable, your website is.
If you've never tested your website, you need to do it. You're sure to come up with plenty of ways to improve it. A website that's satisfying to users is a website that they'll return to and tell their friends about.
If you're about to launch a new website, conduct a web usability test first.
When users are frustrated in doing something at a website, they'll leave it and probably never return. There are too many other, competitive sites out there. There's no reason for a user to fight and struggle with a site to accomplish something.
Find out how usable your website is, improve it according to the test results, and you'll increase traffic, sales, and customer loyalty.
See my field report on how to conduct a web usability test: "User Observation Testing: Forms and Procedures".
For more great information on web usability, go to Jakob Nielsen's website: UseIt.com